While many in Howard County wait for the State Delegation to finally allow developer impact fees to rise from their long-term abysmal levels, after years of clamoring for such, there are amendments being considered that will gut the "impact" of this Bill.
This coming Wednesday, the Howard County Delegation is set to discuss this Bill yet again, and possibly vote on it, finally. I am heartened to see there is a lot of support, likely enough to prevail, to give the County Council the ability to raise these fees, and even choose the amount of the increase.
Problem is, there are a few issues in these amendments that give an extreme windfall to developers, which could have the County not see any money from increased fees for many years, and exempts an enormous number of units/projects.
First, it is being considered to exempt units from the increase that are "technically complete" by 1/1/19. This is a term that deceptively sounds like some sort of "completeness", alas, far from it. This term is applied to projects fairly early on in the Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) process, mostly referring to having submission issues correct. It occurs prior to APFO waits, and all County Board input, where applicable, in most cases, with years to go in the process.
Should a term be in a Bill to define when to grandfather, if NO ONE can even answer the question as to how many units are in that status? Careful though, asking anymore questions that take time to answer will delay this Bill too long. Gee, here's a thought, let the Council figure that out?
Second, it is also being considered to exempt senior housing, and affordable housing. Maybe I could wrap my head around affordable senior housing, since that's quite the unicorn, but why exempt senior housing? Some say it is due to the fact that senior housing doesn't add children to the school system. hmmm Don't these same people say that resales are what add the most students to the school system? You cannot have it both ways. Of course senior housing impacts the school system, yes maybe less than non-senior housing, but it already is exempt from the school APFO test. Also, there is no need to give incentive to developers to create much needed senior housing. The market demand is high, and it already has enormous zoning benefits, getting much higher density, and again, no APFO school halting. We certainly don't need to be adding even more benefits, and lose such an enormous amount of impact fees. This portion of the amendment gift seems like a giant favor to Erickson, in not only my opinion.
Back to the grandfathering issue, the most recent Development Monitoring System Report, which only has info on the 2017 pipeline, to date, shows over 8700 units. That total is without even including 2018's units. That is the totality of units, technically complete or not. Given that label is used early in the process, there is a huge concern that the number of units "technically complete" but not yet having paid the impact fees already, thus those winning the grandfather lotto, likely total a very huge number.
Add to this issue, the fact that, thank God, the allocations test in APFO, at least limits the annual amount of allocations per year, and you can see that exempting this large a number of many thousands of units, means the County will not be getting any increased fee money for many, many years.
Clearly, this is a financially unsound decision to exempt this many units. It also doesn't seem to make any technical sense either. After all, if local control over the amount of the fee increase is given to the County Council, by State legislation then how does it make sense for the State to dictate a grandfathering issue (or as some prefer to call it, implementation date), onto something that hasn't even happened yet?
This long-awaited, long-overdue Bill could end up keeping us from getting increased fees for years, and protecting special interests forwards and backwards. Some feel, since we've been trying to get this done already for so many years, it should be retroactively implemented, (which I know, cannot happen), but instead the time machine grandfathering lotto could go to the developers, for even longer.
Please email our legislators and let them know what you think of all this.
* Source of unit numbers in pipeline: